Disney World Family Vacation

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Disney World Family Vacation

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It’s hard to top a Walt Disney World family vacation. Our family has made the pilgrimage to Orlando, Florida six times since we’ve had kids. I’m a fan of seeing and experiencing new things, but the Disney lure is hard to resist.

Disney relentlessly pursues customer satisfaction and their top-shelf service is only slightly eclipsed by their stellar attention to detail.

My Mom & Dad took my sister and I on a Disney World family vacation when we were both teenagers, and I remember thinking, “aren’t we to old for this?!” (and giving my poor mom grief in the process!). From the River Boat ride from the parking lot to the walk down Main Street – I knew this was not your everyday amusement park. Our 1st ride: Pirates of the Caribbean. From that point forward, we were like little kids again – excited for the next experience!

Magic Kingdom - Wishes
Magic Kingdom – Wishes
Epcot - monorail going by
Epcot – monorail going by

Fast forward to now when we have kids of our own, and I’ve learned that the magic of Disney works on all ages. We’ve taken our boys as young as age 2 and they have been begging to go back well into their teens!

You can easily spend a week in Walt Disney World and not see everything, but that’s OK. We’ve taken many trips over the years and each year we find something new and exciting that keeps us coming back.

If you’re planning your first trip, I don’t want to overwhelm you – so let’s start with some planning tips, scheduling strategies, and must-see attractions:

  • Plan Ahead:

The more time you have to plan your Disney Wold family vacation, you’ll be able to find better deals along with open resort and restaurant availability.

You’ll want to have time to look into what the parks offer, what’s new, and what you don’t want to miss. Having several months to do this helps…and also adds to the excitement & anticipation as you count down to your trip!

 

  • Disney Lodging is worth every penny:

Staying in the park has many, many advantages. For one, you never leave the Disney atmosphere: music, fun, smiles, and surprises around every corner!

Disney makes it very easy to get from their resorts to the parks. Disney World is the size of a small city and they excel at moving people. Their transportation system is phenomenal and includes ferry boats, buses, a monorail, and some very scenic and enjoyable walking paths (i.e. You can walk along the waterfront from EPCOT to the studios if the weather is nice and you’d like to see the Beach Resort along the way!

 

  • You CAN do Disney on a Budget:

You may have to plan ahead a bit, talk to your kid’s teachers to see how you can make up school work if you choose to go for an off-peak week – but you could save hundreds or even $1000+.

Meals are another way to make a Disney World family vacation doable – pack breakfast & lunch foods and only eat dinners out; Use a backpack and water bottles; Avoid soda and concession snacks. You can cut out a lot of costs without cutting out any of the fun!

 

  • Disney Dining – much more than just a meal!:

Disney World’s restaurants offer delicious dining and themes that are so entertaining, you should plan to have at least a few meals in the park during your vacation.

These are so popular, that they book up very fast! Find out the soonest that you can make reservations, mark your calendar, and do it on that day.

From the Polynesian buffet in Ohana to the Cowboy Entertainment of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Review – Disney World’s dining experiences are part of the magic!

 

  • A Disney World family vacation is a dawn-to-dusk adventure:
    • If you plan your day right, you can get on the early morning bus / monorail and not come back until after the fireworks! If that sounds exhausting to you – here’s how to make it work:
      • Bring a stroller for kids up to age 5. It might serve as a backpack holder for the beginning of the day, but you’ll need it by the end!
      • Figure out which rides offer FastPass and take advantage of it! It could save you hours of needlessly waiting in line;
      • Plan the longer rides and shows for the afternoon – you’ll appreciate sitting down in the air-conditioning more as the day wears on.
Disney's Grand Floridian
Disney’s Grand Floridian
Chef Mickey's professional photo
Chef Mickey’s professional photo

Each of the Disney World parks has their own theme, must-see attractions, area resorts, and restaurants. Here’s a summary of each park and their highlights:

Magic Kingdom

If you can, plan your first day here! The Magic Kingdom is the quintessential Disney reception area – from the park opening ceremony to your initial walk down Main Street!  Magic Kingdom has 7 different areas within this one park: Main Street, U.S.A; Frontierland; Fantasyland; Adventureland; Liberty Square; Mickey’s Toontown Fair; and Tomorrowland.

Fantasyland will be a huge hit with the little folks…and I really liked Mickey’s PhilHarMagic show!

Space Mountain in Tomorrowland will get the older kid’s adrenaline pumping, as this roller coaster simulates a spaceship zooming through the stars! Space Mountain has FastPasses available.

The Buzz Lightyear ride is also very popular, so you might want to use the FastPasses for this one, too.

Other family favorites include: Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Tomorrowland Speedway. And the evening fireworks tell a story all their own – there’s no better way to end the day.  Magic Kingdom is the perfect place to start your Disney World family vacation!

The resorts around the Magic Kingdom 7 Seas Lagoon include: The Contemporary, Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge, Fort and Wilderness.

The Monorail has stops at the Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian and can take you to the the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and the Ticket / Transportation Center (TTC).

Cinderella Castle
Cinderella Castle

EPCOT

This is Walt Disney’s dream – Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. EPCOT has a lot of real estate and lots to see & do. The area near ‘the ball‘ (Spaceship Earth), has Future World East & West.

Around the lagoon is the World Showcase with countries: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, American Adventure, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, and Canada. The castmembers in each World Showcase Country are native to that country they represent; the food is authentic, as are the architecture, rides, and entertainment which will make you feel like you’ve travelled thousands of miles in just minutes of walking!

Our EPCOT family favorites include: Test Track, Soarin’, Maelstrom boat ride in Norway; the “outdoor” Mexican restaurant; Mission Space; and Coke’s tasting booth with soda from all over the world!

Epcot - Spaceship Earth and fountain
Epcot – Spaceship Earth and fountain

Disney Hollywood Studios

Disney Hollywood Studios transports you to Hollywood in the 1950s! The rides, shows, and even restaurants all center on the Hollywood theme for a really entertaining experience.

This park, more than the others, has many shows that you’ll want to coordinate the timing of: Indiana Jones stunt show; Lights, Motor, Action!; Playhouse Disney (for the little ones); and many more.

Our family favorites here include: The Toy Story Mania ride (get here early or get FastPass); MuppetVision 3D; Tower of Terror; Rockin Rollercoaster; Backstage Tour, the Fantasmic light, laser, and fireworks extravaganza (limited seats – try getting here early if you can); and if you can fit a meal in, try the Prime Time Cafe (absolutely hilarious) – sit in a 1950’s setting with wait staff that nags parents to put napkin on lap, eat vegetables, and more. Lots of laughs!

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Sorceror's Apprentice Hat
Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Sorceror’s Apprentice Hat

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom is a fun park that I would add to your itinerary if you have more than 5 days in the parks. The park has a different pace and theme as you enter the savannas of Africa.  Unlike the other parks where you’ll need more than 1 day to experience the majority of attractions, Animal Kingdom can be seen in a day.

Our family loved: the safari ride, Bug’s Life 3D movie, Everest, Kali River Rapids, and the dinner buffet in Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. There’s a lot of walking between attractions here, but that’s all part of the experience. Keep in mind that Animal Kingdom is a decent distance from the other main parks, so you’ll spend 20+ minutes in transit time, not including the time waiting for the bus. That being said, you’ll want to spend the full day here, so you don’t lose lots of timing hopping from here to the other parks.

Tree of Life - Mike, Dan, Matthew
Tree of Life – Mike, Dan, Matthew

Blizzard Beach & Typhoon Lagoon

Depending on your preferences and duration of your Disney World family vacation, the water parks are lots of fun and worth a visit if your schedule permits. To add the water park option to your park hopper ticket is an added cost, so decide early-on if it’s an option that’s worth it for your group. We’ve visited each of these water parks once, and had a blast each time.  That being said, on 4 of our 6 trips we’ve opted not to pay for the water park option.

Our family favorites include the Lazy River at Typhoon Lagoon and the Summit Plummet in Blizzard Beach.

If you opt out of the water park option, don’t worry – each of the resorts has great outdoor pools that are a convenient and fun place for a late night dip!

Our Disney World family vacation memories have been some of our best ever and keep us coming back year after year.  Disney does a  superb job of mixing fun, excitement, and entertainment keeping everyone in the family happy!  Start planning your Disney World Family Vacation today!

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